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Your Ladyguide to Marriage Planning

Google has about 95,800,000 search results for “wedding planning,” but if you replace the word “wedding” with the word “marriage,” the number drops by half and the top hits are still all about party details and dresses. Which is great… if the most important part of your marriage is the very first day of it.

I mean, yes, the wedding is all very overwhelming and the details matter and you’d like to have lovely memories of the Party That Kicked it All Off. But as I’m preparing for my own impending nuptials (Summer 2012, Waffle Lovers!), the whole wedding planning fervor has started to wear on my nerves (and not just because I honestly and truly have no opinion about chair sashes). It rings hollow that we’re pouring all of our time and effort into getting ready for what amounts to a giant party, while we’re aware that at least on a philosophical level that party is merely a symbol commencing an entirely new phase of our lives together. Where’s the planning guide for that?

Given that we’ve lived together for a year already, and will have been shacking up for almost two by the time we get around to making it “official,” there are a lot of things some couples have to prepare for that we’re just already adjusting to: personal levels of cleanliness, divvying of household responsibilities and financial burdens, sleeping habits, eating habits, lounging habits. He had to get used to the fact that I like to jam out to the music I listened to when I was 13 while I clean the house (Alanis, the Spice Girls, Ace of Base) and I had to get used to the fact that he sheds body hair at least as much as our dog does. It’s not gross, per se, any more than I have bad taste in music, per se. It’s just the kind of personal, awkward details that stay at home; but home is shared, now.

Still, we’re kind of used to all of that stuff about each other now, and in some ways we’ve been reassured by friends who did the same that nothing will change when we get married. I think on one, practical level, that’s true. But on another level there are some very important considerations that may or may not be obvious that we’re glad we’ve been warned about ahead of time. It’s helped me to be able to wrap my head around this big marriage beast ahead of time, and I think it will serve us well when we’re living it, too. These are tips I think apply to any couple who’s planning a long-term commitment.

  1. It doesn’t have to be a prenup, but have an honest talk about finances, how you handle them, and what kind of access each of you will have to the other’s money ahead of time. Everyone kind of tends to take things like this for granted, because you assume that your well-thought-out approach to money is the rational, baseline one, and then you find out your partner sees it the opposite way, but not until he accidentally over-drafted your joint checking account, or until you blithely laugh when he mentions joint checking and he gets a dismayed look on his face. There are pros and cons to a number of numerations of finance agreements between partners, but the big things to keep in mind are these: what feels best to you, what are healthy compromises, what will keep you both financially safe in the years to come, and what will allow you some flexibility and elbow room both with each other and with your money. 
  2.  Try to get on the same page about big life plans, including having/not having children, geographical location(s) for making your life together, and career bumps, bruises, reincarnations, and about-faces. The truth is you have no idea what you’ll be doing for a living 5 years from now, much less 30. You should try to understand that about one another and be prepared for any foreseeable potential career paths your partner could move along. (For instance, my fiance currently works full time as a designer for a tech company, but at some point that company will sell, and he will have a cushion of funds–we hope–and then freelance or start his own business or work for another company. Each of these possibilities comes with attendant geographical relocations, financial risks, and general implications for our sense of stability and permanence.) It seems obvious, too, to have some consensus about children before you get married, but it’s surprising how many people tie the knot without giving it a second though, assuming that their partner is in agreement with their unspoken wishes. It can be a nasty shock to want no children and find your husband wants four, or vice versa, and while there are certainly options that allow people to compromise, it’s best for everyone if you know what you’re getting into. 
  3. Sit down and have an honest discussion about what you envision “marriage” being like. Chances are, you’re going to try to live some version of that ideal, and you might be surprised by what ideas you hold about marriage without examining them. Getting those ideas out in the open ahead of time allows you to be mindful of the way you craft your marriage, lets you tackle ideas you have about marriage that you might not actually like, and gives you the opportunity to have some fun while intentionally creating the picture of a marriage that works for both of you, together. For instance, I found, when I thought about it, that my idea of marriage included some really traditional roles that I wasn’t totally comfortable with, like husband as breadwinner, wife as caretaker. I don’t want to be dependent on my spouse for the majority of my home income (what if something happens to him?), and while I do care for him and want his wellness, I also: A) cannot be his mother, and B) think I deserve the same kind of care in return that I dish out. Being able to say these things out loud gave us the opportunity to make promises we could hold each other to, like, “I promise to take care of you when you’re sick as long as you promise to do the same,” or “I promise to find a way to plan for my own individual financial future so that I am not dependent on you like a child.” These kinds of promises might sound a bit cold fish, but they don’t feel that way. This feels, in all honesty, like the most tender portion of our relationship. And it is. Because it’s the portion we crafted specifically for us. 
  4. Finally, it’s morbid perhaps, but, talk about death. My dude hates it when I bring it up, but I need to know. I mean it when I say that I want to be with him until one of us dies. And that means someday one of us is going to have to deal with the other’s death. I want to know, now, what he would like if he dies suddenly: what kind of funeral, what kind of arrangements he wants made, what he hopes will become of his worldly goods. Someday we’ll put all this into writing, but for now, it just comforts me to know. I’d so rather have these talks now, when we both have our health and our youth and our relative distance from having to face these issues, than when one of us is gone and we just don’t know the answers, or when one of us is ill and these questions are all too real.

I guess, in the end, marriage planning isn’t about knowing things in advance or being able to plan anything with certainty, so much as it is accepting the idea that you can’t be certain of much, in life, love, or otherwise, and finding a level of peace and preparedness inside that uncertainty is the best you can do for yourself. And maybe, once you and I get to that place, we can get back to coordinating our thank you cards with our save-the-dates.

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

17 replies on “Your Ladyguide to Marriage Planning”

The death thing is a really big one that I didn’t think too much about until I got a new license when I moved back in state a few years ago and the Mister was horrified to find out that I’m an organ donor. Before that, I had no idea that he was so opposed to the idea, and I’m glad we had a talk about it. I agreed to not give away his organs as long as he promises to make sure mine are donated, among other things. But it wasn’t something I’d have considered that we would have had such different opinions on given how much overlap we have in other areas of politics/philosophy of life.

(We also discussed other post-death stuff, like if he dies before he’s finished watching the entirety of the Star Trek canon, I will watch the rest for him. Likewise if I die before if I finish reading all of the original Sherlock Holmes, he will read them for me. You know. The REALLY important details.)

Slate did a good series of articles about joint financial management and planning a few months ago – I found it eye-opening and we’re not at the joint accounts stage yet. Starts here: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/home_economics/2011/02/separatetogether.single.html

Also: find out what legal rights marriage gets you in terms of medical decisions, inheritance, tax, etc. e.g.: In Ireland, many men have no idea that they have no default right to custody of their child if they’re not married to the child’s mother.

It’s really neat seeing marriage and weddings being talked about so … honestly. People so often seem to forget that after the wedding comes marriage. You’ve made some excellent points, for sure.

Still, we’re kind of used to all of that stuff about each other now, and in some ways we’ve been reassured by friends who did the same that nothing will change when we get married.

There is going to be one very, very big change and that is being legally bound to each other. The basics won’t change: how you like your tea or coffee, how he has a tendency to steal the duvet, etc. But it’s worth considering the difference in the – for want of a better word – ‘power’ that a wife or husband has, compared to that of a girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s not something that should matter in day to day life, but if you were to end up – for example – in hospital? It’s worth discussing with a future wife or husband, how you’d want to be treated and what decisions you feel you’d want made, if you weren’t capable of doing so yourself.

But, in the interest of balance: enjoy your party! And remember, marriage means another excellent reason every year to have cake!!

I’ve often said that: when we got married, the only thing that changed was that other people take “husband” and “wife” more seriously than “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” no matter how long you’ve been together. It was a little annoying to have my (at the time) six year relationship only “legitimized” once we were married, but so many people don’t think you’re serious until you make it legal.

I agree. I hate this made up statistic that if you live together before you’re married that you’re more likely to get divorced. Who came up with that one? Focus on the Family??? I mean it’s gotta be a crock. It’s like saying if the gays can get married, then the sanctity of marriage is ruined!!! People living together out of “wedlock” (which is a pretty terrifying term) isn’t reason half of all couples get divorced, it’s just a convenient excuse.

Great post! The one caveat I will offer is one I never thought I’d be saying – do enjoy the wedding, if you can. Yes, it’s just a party (and fwiw, my opinion on chair sashes is BURN THEM ALL, because to me they are the perfect embodiment of everything wrong with modern weddings), but it’s also probably the only time in your life that you’ll have almost everyone you actually love in one room together. I was totally whatever about ours, but on the day it turned out to be ridiculously awesome.

It is SO IMPORTANT to have all these talks before getting married.  Even though ultimately things will happen that you don’t expect, it’s still really key to know where your partner stands in theory. On the money thing I recommend reading Jessica Grose’s series that she wrote for Slate when she got married, about the different ways that couples handle their finances. I think the critical thing is to trust your instincts. What works for another couple may not work for you; don’t feel pressured to do what you think is ‘right’ if your gut is telling you to do something else.

 

For us, being citizens of two different countries, we’ve had to talk about a lot of things that I never planned on, like what if we divorce one day with two kids? What if their parents are in two different countries? What do we do? Or what if immigration turns against us and we can’t be together in one of our home countries? Will we prevail somewhere else? And religion, because if it wasn’t complicated enough but our citizenry, we are also of different faiths. Will our kids be baptized or have bar/bat mizfahs? Or both? Talking about these things has definitely changed my mind on a few points but also made me feel more secure in my decision to marry. I hope that, like you, by laying plans now we will be able to last a lifetime.

Great Post!  Talking to my fiance about these very things made me realize I needed to call off the wedding. Especially the finance question: when I mentioned separate checking accounts, he laughed and said, “Well, I’m the man, so I’m in charge of  the money. You should have your check direct deposit into my account and I’ll give you an allowance.”  Um… what?

I used to work in retail… and that’s something that I used to witness quite frequently.

“OH I HAVE TO GO GET MY HUSBAND. HE HAS THE DEBIT CARD.”

It was pretty absurd to me at the time. I was 16 and I had my own bank account/debit card/pay check. I was 16 and had more agency than women twice my age. It made me (and still does) want to cry.

I’m just glad you found that out before you guys got married!

I had an anthropology professor that said many times that too many couples spend all this time planning the wedding, but spend little or no time planning the marriage. I think addressing these things beforehand can help avoid heartache down the road, especially if having kids (or not) is a deal-breaker. Best to find that out and evaluate before saying “I do.”

So true! We did pre-marriage counseling before we got married, and it was really helpful. We’d talked about most of the topics covered, but there were a few that were good to go through. One of the more interesting things was an exercise regarding our family of origin– i.e., what was “normal” growing up. Super eye-opening.

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